Local bands make mark with spring releases
With spring fast approaching, it's time to look at area bands that hold major promise for the new year. Here are a few recent releases that deserve further inquiry, and soon.
The Sleepers, "Comeback Special" (Pravda)
Forget the band name, it's not likely you'll nod off listening to this new set of tunes by this ace power pop quintet. The Sleepers carry on the vaulted Midwest tradition set in stone by Cheap Trick and Material Issue -- loud, proud, guitar-driven pop. Unlike their predecessors, this band has loads more swagger, thanks to the dueling twin guitars, readying each song with chunky riffs, go-for-glory soloing and gang vocals. While some bands capitalize on the classic formula and push it forward, The Sleepers sound best reveling in its strengths. The music reaches wild heights thanks to Tommy Richied, a vocalist who could give Robin Zander a run for his money.
Even though the band seems stuck for song fodder -- if you discount jailbait, crooked police, bad girlfriends -- they save their best love letter for Detroit, the garage rock capital that made grime beautiful. "Detroit gonna save my soul," the band chants in unison. Sounds sweet.
Cameron McGill & What Army, "Hold On Beauty" (312unes)
While Ryan Adams is penning his latest derivation of the Grateful Dead catalog, Chicago's Cameron McGill is trumping his ace with an album that delivers the promise of singer-songwriter rock with raw power and high ambition intact. While McGill, a troubadour type well-acquainted with the unkempt rock conventions of previous decades, tends to stuff his songs a bit too thickly, those on this new album thrill/chill for their grandeur in production style and spirit. With saloon pianos, strings, horns and shaggy guitars, the music sounds well-worn but always restless.
The most appealing element is McGill's singing, calling to the rooftops with Freddie Mercury magnificence ("She's a Killer") and swooning like Morrissey on doomed rock epics ("Between the Wars"). No album from these parts sounds so convincing in bottling up passion and seeing it unleashed.
Pretty Good Dance Moves, "Pretty Good Dance Moves" (self-release)
Glossy electro-pop has never been as endearing as the kind played by this Chicago-Brooklyn trio who infuse the sliver beats and sparkle on their debut EP with human depth and quality pop hooks. Despite the electronic sheen, the music incorporates a healthy dose of live instruments -- violin, xylophone, piano -- that together prevent the music from sounding mechanical or cold. Girl-boy vocals overlap frequently, creating dramatic tension that inevitably, by the end of each song, sounds like romance.
Blueblood, "Have Mercy" (self-release)
This new Chicago band just has this five-song EP in stores, but each song is a keeper. Led by singer-crooner M. Quinn, the songs are of a pleasant variety -- including guitar pop ("Goodnight, Nurse"), angular sludge rock worthy of Built to Spill ("The Faster We Lived"), and a weird but appealing mesh of rockabilly, soul and razorwire punk ("Broken Hearts are for Fixin'). The band has enough of a sleek signature style to stand out from other post-punk dabblers. What connects this disparate lot of songs is a heavy infusion of soul.
My My My, "Conjugation Nation" (self-release)
Please welcome Chicago's incarnation of the New Pornographers: The breezy pop of this new quintet is just as insistent as those Canadian indie pop stars, with boy-girl harmonies, folk-pop singalongs and an emphasis on adventuresome fun. This debut collection is heavy on the groove, thanks to an elastic rhythm section and song arrangements that veer in unexpected directions usually to end up embracing big pop moments. The bold vocal parts best lend themselves to piano-driven pop ("Sadder at the Seams," "Conjugation Nation") that inevitably soften the dark undercurrents running through the lyrics.